Love and processes are simply not enough – you must have a model for innovative, enterprising and sustainable income generation

I am writing this with the BBC’s coverage of the torch relay running in the background. I think even the most cynical of people have been amazed with the support and interest there has been for the torch relay during this first week. And that in parts of Britain, where, perhaps due to the distance from London, maybe the enthusiasm shown even for the Olympics has been a little subdued. So the latent interest in the Olympics and sport is there, but at the same time the Sport and Recreation Alliance report from 2011 states that only 49% of community sports are actually generating a surplus. So love certainly is not enough to keep community sport sustainable.

In Ireland the Irish Rugby Football Union has recently published the results from a major research and consultation process. One of the findings states that 72% of the Irish public believes that rugby union as a sport makes a significant contribution to Irish society. At the same time the Irish nation’s morale has rarely been lower and yet internationally Irish rugby is riding high with the 2012 Heineken Cup final being contested at a sell-out Twickenham. Also the number of children taking up the game is up (parents appreciating the values of the game). BUT, IRFU analysis of club accounts highlights that there has been a 40-50% decrease in club sponsorship as well a 30-40% reduction in bar revenue.

And I meet lots of great, passionate people involved with community sport who have never really thought about how they could make a much greater impact if they actually thought deeper about how to develop a strategy for developing sustainable income streams. So please do not leave the financial sustainability to the hard-pressed Treasurer and some fund-raiser, often operating in splendid isolation from the rest of the club.

For those of you working in public facilities and who no doubt are facing serious challenges having to demonstrate the long-term viability and benefits of your centre/facility now is certainly the time to give serious consideration as to how you can develop a strategy and action plan for innovative, enterprising and sustainable income generation.

What is your financial strategy? How do you fund your club and sport? Have you got a financial plan? Or do you have a ‘we are sport, so all this business-jargon doesn’t really apply to us’ approach? How you finance the activities of your club should be absolutely at the core of your club, your leadership and your thinking. It is absolutely no good to have an attitude where the coaches ‘just want to do sport’ and somebody else must make sure that the finances are in place to ensure that coaches’ wishes are granted.

It’s very difficult to justify two swimmers occupying an Olympic pool or 3 to 4 runners being the only people benefiting from the floodlights at the athletics track and then expecting somebody else to be there to switch off the electricity and lock up after them. And, yes, both examples are from the real world.

Regardless of level, size and ambition as a sports provider you must have a clear picture of how you are going to fund your club and sport. Are you relying on philanthropic donors or are you constantly applying for ever-more rare grants? Or do you seek and win contracts with schools or health authorities to deliver anti-obesity and physical activity programmes?

You might even consider becoming more enterprising and constantly be looking at how to develop new services that consumers will want to pay for, because you are providing great experiences?

In an ideal world you may even be looking at the best ways to balance your objectives for your club with the different ways of financing them and your club as a whole. Different income types are sought and managed in different ways and involve developing specific relationships with whoever is providing the funds. Within the range of options there are enormous ranges and possibilities.

Sustainable income generation can involve all a number of streams, or just one or two options, all depending on your objectives, culture and skills.

The key is sustainable income. Let me repeat those words: sustainable income.

Apologies for being a bit exuberant here but I do experience so many, far too many, clubs who suffer from the Dash For Cash Syndrome, where they run like (often headless!) chicken trying to raise 12s 6d somehow to survive until their next financial crisis.

‘Sustainable income’ is not simply a question of getting better at fundraising or locating one ever-lasting source of income. Sustainable income is exploring income opportunities across a spectrum of funding streams; from charitable donations, through to grants, service level agreements and contracts, to social enterprise activity, trading goods and services. This not only spreads risk, but ensures community sports providers are best placed to take advantage of emerging trends and opportunities and are able to safeguard their financial future without sacrificing independence or mission.

Sustainable income is underpinned by thorough planning. Every organisation is unique, but there are ideas, information and sources of practical support for those wanting to broaden their income base and explore sustainable funding.

If you’re thinking about sustainable income you need to be asking:

  • How are we planning for the future?
  • Could we collaborate with other organisations?
  • Do we have any services that are strong enough to deliver as contracts?
  • Can we charge our service users for what we’re doing already?
  • Can we subsidise our core service by offering something different, perhaps to a different group of people who are more able to pay?
  • What are we good at, and how can we best use our expertise to develop our services?

The best ideas for sustainable funding aren’t the unusual ideas, but ones that use the skills and resources that you already have as an organisation.

At SMN’s conference Sustainable Community Sport – New Challenges, New Opportunities to be held 26th June at Watford FC you can listen to some great people, just like yourself, who have managed to combine the love and passion with the ability to develop exciting ways of ensuring financial sustainability. (For details contact svend@smnuk.com or call 01423 326 660)

 

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